Perhaps it's the convenience of popping a DVD out of the camcorder and straight into your living room player, or maybe you just don't feel comfortable with a hard-drive-based model, but whatever the reason, you're looking into buying a DVD camcorder. Positioned in the middle of the company's 2007 DVD-based camcorders, Canon's DC220 is a decent, though not very impressive model.
Astute observers will notice that the DC220 shares most of its features with the slightly less expensive DC210. In this case, the extra cash gets you an autofocus upgrade to Canon's nine-point AiAF system, a miniSD card slot for capturing still images, a Hi-Speed USB 2.0 connection, PictBridge compatibility for direct photo printing to compatible printers, and Canon's Digital Video Solutions software package. That means that if you're not interested in shooting still images with your camcorder and you don't need Canon's software, then you may want to consider the DC210.
Weighing 15.9 ounces with battery and a DVD installed, and measuring 3.5x2.1x5 inches, the DC220 is fairly light and somewhat small for a DVD-based model. Compared to similar models from last year, it shows some improvements in design. Canon now includes a tiny joystick, well located for your thumb, to navigate the menus. That's a big step up from the array of buttons on the left side of the DC100's body. However, the DC220 does have a triad of annoying buttons on its flank. You use them to access the menu, change the information displayed on the LCD, or enter and exit quick start mode (aka standby mode). In our field tests, we found these buttons less responsive than we would've liked. In many cases, it took more than one press, not to mention more force than we prefer to exert on the side of a camera body that we're trying to hold still. It might make sense for Canon to put the menu and display controls along the bottom of the LCD, though the dual-function playback, zoom, and record controls that are already there might not leave enough room. Fortunately, Canon placed the rest of the controls in all the right places.
Canon includes a decent array of controls and features for a midlevel camcorder. You can choose from program, shutter-priority, or night exposure modes, and there are four white-balance settings, including evaluative. We were impressed with the DC220's long 35x optical zoom lens as well as with the camera's electronic image stabilization, which remained effective out to about 85 percent of the zoom range. That's quite good for such a long zoom. Plus, if you have a hard time keeping those variable-speed zoom rockers moving smoothly, the DC220 includes three constant zoom speeds.
That brings us to the DC220's biggest weakness: its 680,000-pixel CCD sensor. Right now, as a general rule of thumb, it's best to try to find a camcorder with at least a 1-megapixel sensor if you can. While video from the DC220 had respectably accurate color reproduction, and the camera's autofocus system does an admirable job of quickly locking on your subject and adjusting to scene changes, the footage we shot lacked the extra sharpness we're used to getting from megapixel-plus cameras. That said, it did a fine job for a 680K-pixel model. Though, as we've come to expect, Canon's night mode doesn't help capture decent footage in very dark situations. Sony's NightShot mode, while monochrome, yields much more useable footage in extremely dark environments. In our tests, the camcorder also had a hard time focusing in very dim light.
If you're looking for a relatively inexpensive DVD-based camcorder and you don't expect to shoot in dim lighting much, the DC220 is pretty safe choice. Of course, as I said earlier, if the DC220's added features don't make a difference to you, you can save a bit of cash with the DC210. If you'd like to step up to a DVD-based camcorder with a greater pixel count, Canon offers the DC230, which sports a 1.07-megapixel CCD.